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Full text of "The Gay Genius"

200                             THE GAY GENIUS

send funeral gifts to Su's family. On second thought, he felt he ought
to send a friend to Huangchow to verify the news first. It was then
that he found that the news was untrue and that it all arose from the
fact that Su Tungpo had shut himself up and had not been seen for
several months. In his reply to Fan Chen, Su said: "All my life, the
rumours about me have been just like this one."                                  -><

Out of the emancipated life he was leading now came a transforma-
tion of iiis spirit, reflected in his writings. The bitterness of his satire,
the sharpness of his pen, the tension and the anger were gone, and in
their place we find a glowing, warm, intimate, and tolerant humour,
thoroughly mellow and mature. If philosophy has any value, it teaches
man to laugh at himself. Among the animals, as I understand, only the
apes are able to laugh, but even if we grant this, I am quite confident
that only man can laugh at himself. I do not know whether we can
call this the laughter of the gods or not. If it were the Olympian gods
who were full of human mistakes and foibles, they would have frequent
occasions to laugh at themselves; but a Christian God or angels could
not possibly do this because they are so perfect. I think it would be a
greater compliment to call this quality of self-laughter the unique
saving virtue of degenerate Man.

Characteristic of this kind of mature humour when he was* com-
pletely relaxed and his spirit was at ease are the little notes that Su
Tungpo wrote. He began to write a great number of inconsequential
little entries in his journal that have no moral purpose and no message,
but are among the most loved of his writings. He wrote one concerning
his poverty and that of his constant follower. "Ma Mengteh was bora
in the same year and month as myself, but is younger by eight days.
No man born in this month and year ever became rich, but Mengteh
and I top them all in poverty. Between the two of us, however, I think
Mengteh should take first place." Another note was a story of two
beggars. "There were two beggars who were talking about what they
would like to do if they had money. One fellow said: What I have
always wanted to do is to eat and sleep all I like. When I ajn rich, I
am going to eat and then go to sleep and then wake up to eat again.
That would be Heaven for me.' The other beggar said: 'I disagree
with you. When I'm rich, I am going to eat and eat and eat. Thei^f
will be no time to sleep/ "

Happiness under any circumstances is a secret. But it is not difficult
to peer into the secret of Su Ttingpo's happiness by studying the inner
man through his writings.

It is characteristic of this prodigal genius that he gave more to the
world than he received from it, and by capturing certain poetic
moments and immortalising them wherever he went, he has enriched